A teacher’s journey to proficiency – Part 3

In Part 1, I mentioned I don’t see myself as someone who is constantly striving towards perfection, but I can’t deny the results I got after taking the more advanced exam left a bitter taste in my mouth. Frustration boiled over at first and its effects lingered for some time, so much so that it took me about six years to gain enough confidence to sit CPE, an exam dreaded by students and teachers alike. I used to tell myself life was getting in the way – novice teachers often find themselves swamped with work and overwhelmed by learners with a bewildering array of wants and needs they have to accommodate. How can we possibly find the time to work on our own language development? Well, in moments like this I can hear Claire Venables asking ‘what’s holding you back?’ in one of our Mastermind group meetings. When you answer this question, setting yourself clear goals might become surprisingly easier.

My first step was to enter uncharted territory and register for an online preparatory course. I had never taken an online course, and although it was bound to be an excellent course, I still had my reservations about it, as many still do today. If you’re one of those people, let me assure you: not only was it a phenomenal course, but it also encouraged me to become a more independent student, taking ownership of my own language development. How? Well, I’m glad you asked. First and foremost, a gathering of professionals who may have diverse teaching experiences can only prove beneficial for everyone involved, as you will invariably discuss a broad range of topics and draw both on your personal and professional experience to share your ideas. And teachers have so much to share. I was amazed at how much I could learn from my classmates.

Secondly, if you’re lucky enough to have such an utterly brilliant teacher as I did, you will be provided with a tremendous amount of significant input that will make you wonder why you have waited so long to join the course. Truth be told, it may be a little overwhelming at first, but if you work hard enough, you’ll soon get the hang of it and find yourself expanding your active vocabulary as well as understanding a range of sentence structures you thought were only found in grammar books. Then the moment will come when you realize you can’t watch your favourite TV series or read your bedside book without adding examples of collocations and inversions to your vocabulary notebook.

Thirdly, you will come to terms with the fact that reading is hands down one the best ways of improving your English. Higor Cavalcante has written about it here in case you feel like you need to see some compelling arguments before giving it a try. It’s really worth it, I can tell you. I didn’t use to think I was able to finish a book in less than a few months (pause for gasp), but having a certain number of chapters or pages assigned as homework proved to be truly motivating. Sometimes all we need is a set of small, manageable tasks to lead us on our way – and the endlessly satisfying feeling of ticking them off on your to-do list is only a bonus. I can’t stress enough how crucial reading was to develop writing and even speaking skills for the exam.

Finally, it’s safe to say that deciding to prepare (and sit) for this exam was the best decision I made last year. I know it might not be the case for everyone, but this whole process shed new light on my professional development. I used to feel somewhat isolated living in a place where the ELT community is not as vibrant as it is in big centres, so the idea of taking such exam was comparable to reaching the highest point in my career. Going through this experience, however, showed me there is much more to aspire to, and there are many different ways to get where you would like to be.

Passing the exam was certainly a real milestone both in my personal life as a learner as well as in my career as an ELT professional, but it has provided me with much more than a certificate. Besides doing wonders for my language development, it helped me debunk myths connected to online courses, which then encouraged me to register for other online courses and reap the benefits of interacting in online communities and meet like-minded people who are incredibly supportive. As a consequence, I gained enough confidence to attend a wonderful ELT event, write about my experience, and even share it online – which was beyond my wildest dreams at the time.

As I mentioned before, there are other ways to achieve your objectives. In this journey, there is no fixed itinerary, and sharing your experiences can help you plan your next step. Now, what’s your story? We’re listening.

Leandro Zuanazzi

Leandro Zuanazzi has been working as a teacher since 2011. He holds the CELTA and the CPE. He is very passionate about professional development for teachers.

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